By: Aaron Bracy
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Orlando coach Scott Skiles called it a must-win game, and the Magic found a way.
A nice scoring night was barely better than a shoddy defensive performance.
Vucevic scored a season-high 35 points against his former team, leading the Magic to a 124-115 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.
Vucevic, drafted 16th overall by the 76ers in 2011, also had nine rebounds and four assists, helping Orlando bounce back from a 105-102 home loss to Indiana. The Magic have won four of six while trying to gain ground in pursuit of their first playoff berth in four years.
“I wanted to come out and lead the way so they can follow me,” said Vucevic, who was 13 for 21 from the field and 9 for 9 at the line.
Victor Oladipo added 22 points and Evan Fournier scored 21 for the Magic, who return home on Thursday to host the NBA-best Golden State Warriors. Aaron Gordon contributed a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“Golden State will score 300 on us if we play like that,” Skiles said. “Of course, we’re glad to get a win. But even finishing out the game, just throwing the ball all around and stuff, it’s hard to feel good about it.”
Ish Smith scored 22 points and Jahlil Okafor had 17 for the NBA-worst 76ers, who dropped to 8-48 with their fifth straight loss and 10th in the last 12. Okafor was coming off a career-best 31-point outing in Philadelphia’s 129-103 loss at Dallas on Sunday. Nerlens Noel added 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The 76ers have allowed an average of 122 points in their last four losses.
“The energy’s not where we need it to be,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “That starting group’s got to get going, really. We need better defense from that starting group.”
Vucevic played his rookie season for Philadelphia before being dealt over the summer to the Magic, who continue to reap the benefits. But Orlando didn’t need his scoring during a pivotal 11-2 run to open the fourth quarter, capped by Jason Smith’s jumper that made it 108-95 with 8:36 remaining. Smith, another former 76er, had six points during the Magic’s spurt, which proved too much for Philadelphia to overcome.
“We came out really aggressive, but our defense didn’t keep up with our offense,” Vucevic said. “In the fourth quarter, we were able to turn up our defense and get a few stops.”
The 76ers looked good in the third quarter when they erased a five-point halftime deficit by hitting 12 of their first 15 shots and had their largest lead at 83-77 on Noel’s alley-oop dunk. But Orlando outscored Philadelphia 20-10 over the final 6:28 of the third to enter the fourth quarter up 97-93.
NO HARD FEELINGS
Vucevic said he doesn’t have added incentive to play well against Philadelphia.
“I was over (the trade) even the first game I ever played here,” he said. “It’s just the business part of what we do. I don’t have any hard feelings. It was a great time for me here. I always like to come back here and play well because this is where I had my first game and a lot of people I know come to the game, but I don’t play harder just because they traded me.”
Like his coach, Vucevic knows the Magic will need to play better defensively against Golden State. Philadelphia shot 54.4 percent (43 for 79) from the field.
“Defense like tonight isn’t going to cut it,” he said. “And we’re for sure not going to outscore them. I think we’re capable of it. We just have to do it for 48 minutes.”
Magic: Vucevic’s career high is 37 points, set last April 3 against Minnesota. … Gordon and Philadelphia backup PG T.J. McConnell were college teammates at Arizona. … G Brandon Jennings and F Ersan Ilyasova played their third game for Orlando after being acquired from Detroit last week for Tobias Harris. Jennings had six points and Ilyasova had 10 points and eight rebounds.
76ers: Okafor wasn’t present when he was introduced as a member of the starting lineup, but he did join the team in its huddle before tip-off. … McConnell limped off the court with a minute left in the third quarter and went to the locker room favoring his right ankle. He didn’t return due to a right ankle sprain and Brown said McConnell is doubtful for Wednesday’s game at Detroit.
Magic: Host Golden State on Thursday.
76ers: At Detroit on Wednesday night.